COLUMBUS, Ohio – We like quirky cars that don’t fit into existing segments, like the Polaris Slingshot. We love the manual transmission. It’s certainly no surprise, then, that after a few weeks of using the 2021 Slingshot equipped with the right gearshift and clutch pedals, we walked away with peace of mind knowing that a five-speed manual transmission was the way to go. Get the ultimate tricycle experience.
Aside from the gearbox, there’s not much difference between the Slingshot’s lifespan between the automatic we tested last year and the manual we tested this fall. Nothing has changed with the seating position, the 2.0-liter engine – tuned to deliver 178hp at 8,500rpm in the S and SL or 203 hp at 8,250 rpm in the S model we tested – or handling characteristics. Either way, the Slingshot delivers the light, breeze-in-the-air experience, almost none of that of a classic roadster.
The ponies are powered by a Polaris-engineered four-cylinder that kicks in as the revs increase. The base engine produces 120 pound-ft of torque while the upgraded version has 144 lb-ft of power. With a curb weight of just 1,653 pounds (£1,667 with the automatic), the 8.1 lb/hp power-to-weight ratio propels the Slingshot R to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds. Top speed is limited to 125 mph, but that’s certainly enough.
More important than terminal speed is the 1.02 g grip when cornering on the skates. The slingshot grips the road with fierce grip as long as the driver doesn’t generate too much revs from the single belt-drive rear wheel with traction control disabled. The variable ratio rack and pinion power steering is perfectly tuned for the Slingshot, and its 2.5 key-to-lock shifts feel appropriately quick.
There are two driving modes, one labeled Comfort and the other labeled Slingshot. There is a noticeable difference between them and we (again, unsurprisingly) decided to leave it in the sportier Slingshot mode. The immediate throttle response is quite consistent with the manual transmission. Like traction control, stability control is standard on the Slingshot and can be beaten with a push of two buttons located in the cockpit. With cold and wet tires, the electronic nannies really help; burnouts and donuts are just a snap even when the tires are warm. Power off from 298 mm . anti-lock disc brake (one on each front wheel and one on the rear) is plentiful.
A 7-inch digital infotainment system called Ride Command sits at the intersection between the center stack and the dashboard. It’s easy to use, with clearly marked and weatherproof buttons just below. The powerful 100-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system is optional (standard on the R version) and recommended. Apple CarPlay and turn-by-turn navigation are also available, as well as a backup camera, which we found very useful for backing up the Slingshot’s odd triangle.
A base 2021 Polaris Slingshot S starts at $20,899 (including a reasonable $900 logistics fee) with the manual transmission or $22,599 with the automatic. The upgraded SL model costs $25,899 or $27,599, and the top-shelf R model offers more performance for $32,199 or $34,199. The Limited Edition (seen in our image gallery) is painted bright green with digital graphics and a blacked-out badge for 2021 only. For comparison, 2021 Mazda The Miata Sport, a more practical car (how often can you say that?) but less explosive, costs $27,825. ONE KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo, a less utilitarian but more explosive car, costs $19,599. We’ll let you evaluate their various value propositions.
If you decide the price is acceptable, there’s a sizable difference between the entry-level Slingshot and a finished model like the one we tested. We certainly like the upgraded SL’s windshield, tech package and audio system, and the extra power offered by the R model is certainly felt from behind the wheel. If you’re primarily looking for some fun style in the sun, the SL should fit the bill. But if you want the ultimate Slingshot, you’ll have to be willing to shell out over $30,000 for a toy. Whatever the case, we certainly won’t blame you for parking the best in your driveway in lieu of a more utilitarian car or a less utilitarian bike.